A unique concept for different realities
Strictly speaking, the concept of "vertical farm" refers to the practice of producing food in vertical, integrated or not in other facilities specially built or preexisting. In this perspective the vertical farm is therefore predominantly urban agricultural company, or placed in urban areas, which develops vertically and uses specific cultural, organizational and commercial techniques.
Recent trends, however, tend to extend the concept to many and different production methods, which share the choice of using the space vertically, to four fundamental and incontrovertible evidences:
- the deterioration of agricultural soils, linked to intensive production techniques;
- the growing demand for food due to the steady growth of the world population, which increases at the rate of 80 million people a year;
- the continuing growth of the urban population: it is estimated that in 2050 nearly 80% of the earth's population will reside in urban centers, resulting in exponential expansion of soil artificialisation;
- the rapid climate change, which causes the increase of desertification and the rising of sea levels, which could decrease the arable land.
Therefore fall into the category of vertical farm also all those cultivation methods based on the exploitation of the vertical dimension, as the vegetable gardens on the rooftop, green wall and vegetable gardens implemented on balconies or terraces of varying width.
Said that, each of them requires owns techniques and organizations, responding to different needs and a different historical and operational development, in the present work we take into consideration their specific problems, with particular attention, however, to the industrial vertical farms, trying to put light on whether and to what extent they can be a real sustainable response to the growing need for food, as their most important theoretical, the American Dickson Despommier, states. The illustrious professor of microbiology and Public Health at Columbia University in New York, with his book The Vertical Farm (2010), laid the theoretical foundations of the innovative urban vertical farming methods designed to «feeding the world in the 21st Century».
The question is whether the enthusiastic optimism Despommier can find concrete and advantageous embodiment and if the vertical farm can actually become «the next big thing for food and tech», as defining the business television channel CNBC, capable of representing a possible solution of the problems highlighted, or remain a fascinating, but not sustainable idea.